I am first and foremost a rancher. I am now also an anti-pipeline activist.
I was 10 years old when I started my own herd of cattle on my family’s ranch in Nebraska. I learned early on from our 75-year history of ranching about the value of hard work. I learned the value of our land and water that sustains our herd and our family.
You may ask, how does a rancher become an activist?.
I was at a State Department hearing in 2010 when I first saw the names of my friends, family and neighbours on TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline map for Nebraska.
The pipeline was proposed to pass right through the Sandhills, a unique and fragile ecosystem that overlies the Ogallala, a critically important aquifer, at a vulnerable shallow recharge zone.
None of my neighbours were activists. We felt alone in our opposition to the pipeline. TransCanada told us separately we were the only ones not signing easements, taking the money they offered. But that was not so.
When I started speaking out, I found my voice. I found there were Nebraskans all across the state that felt the same way. Since then, along with other landowners and citizens in Nebraska and other states, we have fought the pipeline.
And now, I know we have friends in Canada waging a very similar fight against the same company.
I’ve just finished a week of visiting communities in New Brunswick along the Energy East pipeline. The conversations I’ve had with landowners, First Nation members and concerned residents very much remind me of the conversations we had when we were first reckoning with the risks posed by Keystone XL.
We have heard pipeline proponents peddle the same myths.
Like the promises of jobs. These jobs will be mostly short-term. In fact, they are over-advertised to lure people to support the project. They preempt the real discussion about how to build a long-term sustainable energy future that keeps young people in smaller communities and helps the economy grow.
We too have heard that Keystone XL would reduce dangerous oil- by- rail traffic.
Pipeline and oil-by-rail industries are largely self-regulated and neither is held to high enough safety standards. Nor are they showing responsibility to communities by being forthright about the chemicals that are passing through waterways either by rail or by pipe.
Industry is after as much capacity, pipeline or rail, as they can get to feed the booms happening in the tar sands and U.S. fracked oil. Approval of either pipeline will add to the risks of communities facing oil- by- rail traffic.
And there are viable alternatives. In fact, Nebraskans built a New Energy Barn featuring solar panels in the Keystone XL path that generates clean energy ionto Nebraska’s public power grid.
Energy East, just like Keystone XL, is an export pipeline. We are all being asked to bear the risks of a pipeline spill so foreign corporations can profit.
At 1.1 million barrels per day, Energy East would carry around 300,000 more barrels than Keystone XL, making a massive pipeline rupture very possible.
In Nebraska, we are very much concerned about a spill seeping into the Ogallala aquifer. In New Brunswick, the pipeline would cross waterways like the Tobique and Miramichi Rivers and the beautiful Grand Lake. A spill from either pipeline would devastate the Ogallala aquifer or these waterways, and the farms and drinking water they supply and the fish they are home to.
I met with organic farmers who have been approached multiple times by TransCanada to have their land surveyed for the pipeline, worried about their land and water sources. Landowners are feeling powerless and isolated, just like we did, at first.
This can be overcome.
Because of the efforts of many opposed to the project, we have seen TransCanada was forced to change their proposed pipeline route in Nebraska. It still poses an unacceptable threat to the Sandhills and the Ogallala aquifer, so we will continue to fight it.
We have a case before the Nebraska Supreme Court pitting three Nebraska landowners fighting to protect their land from eminent domain and the pipeline, against an irresponsible Nebraskan law attempting to fast-track the pipeline route approval process. The law has already been ruled unconstitutional by a lower district court. TransCanada currently has no legal route through Nebraska.
We’ve joined farmers, ranchers, and tribal communities from along the pipeline route to form the Cowboy Indian Alliance. This past September we rode our horses into Washington, D.C. and set up camp near the White House to tell President Obama to reject the pipeline.
We’ve stood beside people of all stripes in the 400,000-strong people’s climate march in New York denouncing the pipeline’s unacceptable climate pollution.
Keystone XL was also originally portrayed as a project in all of our interests, a straightforward decision. We have now seen years of delays that have doubled TransCanada’s costs and mobilized millions of Americans in defense of our land, our water and a better, brighter future without fossil fuels.
I look forward to continuing the relationships forged with people in New Brunswick and am proud to stand beside Canadian friends in this most important fight. We, the people of North America and the world, must work together against money and power to protect our homes, our communities, and our planet.
First published by Huffington Post.